Center on International Education Benchmarking

Estonia Overview

Estonia emerged as a top performer on PISA 2012, ranking 11th in reading and math and 6th in science among all PISA participating countries and regions.  Among EU countries, Estonia ranked 2nd in math and science and 4th in reading.  This is a remarkable achievement for a country that only gained independence in 1992.  Since that year, the Estonia economy has grown nearly tenfold, with a well-developed information technology sector central to that growth.  Part of this growth strategy was the development of an education system to foster a high-tech, high-skill, high-wage economy.

This impressive and steady rebuilding of the Estonian education system occurred in three main areas: the development of a new national curriculum adapted to the needs of a new economy; revamping teacher training to focus on innovative teacher practices and teacher mentorships; and upgrading the status of vocational education and training (VET).  Notable to Estonia is their national strategy to develop an information society by 2015.  As part of that strategy, the Tiger Leap project, started in 1998, put in place a computer science curriculum for all secondary school students.  This has since expanded to all students in all grades, with an emphasis not just on programming but on problem-solving skills and logical thinking.

Estonia developed and adopted a new national curriculum for the 1997-98 school year.  It focused on traditional academic subjects as well as skills such as self-management, learning to learn, communications and entrepreneurship.   It set national frameworks for each subject but, unlike the previous Soviet curriculum, local schools have significant autonomy in deciding their curriculum.  Schools are also entrusted with designing and implementing their own plan to change and improve education to take into account the needs of the local area, school staff, parents and students, and the schools’ resources and capacity.  Amendments to the school curriculum can be submitted to the school’s board of trustees, students’ board or teachers’ council.  Estonia coupled this new curricula with a revamping of teacher education in the country in order to strengthen teachers’ capacity to focus on critical thinking skills for the new IT economy Estonia was building and serve a diverse set of students.  Teacher education is now focused more on mentorships with master teachers.

Estonia has also focused on upgrading its vocational education system that serves about 30 percent of its upper secondary school students.  In 1999, the country created a national qualifications system, developed national standards for vocational education and established more than 40 regional vocational training centers across the country.  Almost all large employers and more than half of small firms participate in the system, which offers training places to all students.

Read more about Estonia’s education reform efforts here.

PISA 2015 Mean Scores by Country for Reading, Mathematics, and Science

Estonia PISA Mean Scores 2012 Graph

Estonia’s Education System at a Glance

Graphic of Estonia's Education System


The World Economic
Forum Global Competitiveness
Rank 2014
Innovation Rank 2014
Population 1,258,545
Languages Estonian 68.5%
Russian 29.6%
Ukrainian 0.6%
Other 1.3%
Ethnic Makeup Estonian 68.7%
Russian 24.8%
Ukranian 1.7%
Belarusian 1%
Finn 0.6%
Other 3.2%
GDP (PPP) $38.7 billion
GDP Per Capita $29,500
Origin of GDP Agriculture: 3.5%
Industry: 28.1%
Services: 68.4%
Unemployment 6.5%
Youth Unemployment 17%
Secondary School Completion 91%
Adults with Tertiary Education 38%

Source: CIA World Factbook (March 2017)
World Bank Data (March 2017)
and OECD Education at a Glance 2016


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